Interviewing An Artist: Sargent’s Gretchen Lieberum Is An Open Heart

Sargent will be playing in New York, NY on September 27 at Rockwood Music Hall. If you have not read my review on Sargent,  PLEASE DO NOW! The self-titled debut LP from Gretchen Lieberum, 1/2 of Princess with Maya Rudolph, and The Killers’ Jake Blanton is like having a beautiful heart handed to you for care. Interviewing Gretchen showed me why the album was so stunning and raw. Personally, I find the lyrics of a song to be most powerful, and Gretchen’s responses showed me how she was able to master the effervescent melodies and ethereal words of She is eloquent and filled with wise, humorous words that slide off her like casual grace.

Diandra: What has been your most freeing experience as a musician?
Gretchen: There are two experiences that, as a musician, make it all worth while for me. One is when I’m writing with someone and we’re working something out at the piano and it just clicks…that is a huge joy. And in that moment there is no expectation of what the song is and what it will do for you, you’re just happy to have created something. The other experience is being on stage, and having a moment when you are really connecting with the audience and everything else in life seems to melt away. That is also an amazing high.

Diandra:In venturing back and forth from a duo, Princess, to a solo artist, what has been the most exciting and stressful difference?
Gretchen: The best part is that it allows me to express different sides of myself. With Princess I get to goof around with one of my best friends on stage and sing upbeat music that makes people happy. It’s so much fun. Although since Prince passed away, there is a level of gravitas to our performance that wasn’t there before. But ultimately our shows are still all about Prince love and fun. With Sargent I can express the contemplative, moody side of myself. I enjoy making people both laugh AND cry!

         Princess, in general, feels easier in that I put less pressure on myself, because the attention is not only on me, and I’m not singing my own songs. Sargent makes me feel more vulnerable. It’s my own music, and it’s quite intimate and emotional. It’s a little scarier as a performer.

Diandra: What would you say is the biggest progression of your personal sound that being this album has inspired?
Gretchen: I really pushed myself, vocally in particular, to be raw and emotional and not to get caught up with being perfect. That has been an obstacle for me in the past. Also, these songs were very much effected by the sensibility of my co-writing partner and producer, Jake Blanton. I’ve never done a record that was this much of a collaboration. And I think it pushed the music in a really interesting and beautiful direction, the combination of our two styles.

Diandra: What moment, specifically, can you recall when you felt moved to do this alhum?
Gretchen: Well ,I had recorded much of it over six years ago. Jake and I were writing together at a mutual friend’s studio, and we decided to record as we wrote. My original intent was not to make an album right then. And in fact, I ended up putting aside what I had considered to be demos for years. I then went on to start Princess with Maya and performed with that group for several years. As much fun as it’s been, at some point I began to miss making and performing my own music. Around that time, my Mom passed away. When you lose a parent, you really start to understand the meaning of “now or never.” So, I played the old demos for a musician friend whose opinion I really trust. He said that the songs “need to be out in the world.” I think that was the moment when I said yes, I’m going to finish these songs and release them. I reached out to Jake and he was down as well.

Diandra: What is it about motherhood that most inspired your music? 
Gretchen: I feel that Motherhood has in general inspired me to make more music, and specifically more intimate music. Because once you have kids, you lose a lot of fear when it comes to yourself. All of your fear is projected onto them! The most important thing becomes them….at least that’s how I feel. And fear is the biggest inhibitor of creativity I think. When you’re not afraid of the results and consequences, I think your work gets better.

Diandra: If this album could speak, what would its ultimate message be about you as an artist? 
Gretchen: That my greatest goal is to reveal and express emotional truth, and to simply make something beautiful to put out into the world.

Diandra: If you could describe your connection to music in three words, what would they be? 
Gretchen: Expression, joy, life

Diandra: What is your funniest performance story?
Gretchen: A few years ago, Maya and I were performing as Princess in San Francisco. At some point, someone threw an article of clothing on stage. I picked up the piece clothing before realizing that it was a pair of men’s underpants. And they were still quite warm. Like, they had definitely very recently still been on someone’s body. I dropped them pretty quick. Then Maya picked them up with a drumstick and threw them back into the audience. Maybe that’s my grossest rather than funniest story.

Diandra: Your solo sound is beautifully gentle, compared to your funkier sounds as half of Princess.  What was your creative process and perspective in making Sargent feel so stunning and soft?
Gretchen:When writing my own music, that’s just the sound I’m drawn to. I also feel that’s where my strength as a singer lies; in the intimacy of the delivery. I can belt out a song pretty well, as I do when singing with Princess. But I don’t feel it’s what I’m best at. I don’t really play an instrument, besides rudimentary piano so I mostly make up lyrics and melodies alone. I would then sing them to Jake and he’d craft a track around it. I think the way I sang leant itself to a softer, mellower track.

Diandra: If there is one artist, in the history  of jazz and down-tempo music, that you could do an album with, whom would it be and why? 
Gretchen: Well, I’d say my idol, Nina Simone….not that she’d need me around! I guess I’d just sit around and fawn over her as she did her genius thing. I’d also like to throw out there to the bands Air, Koop and Zero 7…if you guys need a new singer to work with…call me!

After hearing Sargent’s record, I’m sure Nina Simone would have had no problem doing a duet with Gretchen. Lieberum has a voice that was made for jazzy lullabies and to smoothen the pangs of melancholy we all occasionally feel. For More Information on Sargent Click Here. Again, Sargent will be playing in New York, NY on September 27 at Rockwood Music Hall, and to hear this band play live will be the exact tranquility you need after work.